UW News

November 17, 2022

Annual notification: Anti-kickback, conflict of interest, whistleblower regulations and hotlines

Federal Acquisition Regulations (FAR 52.203-7) require the University of Washington to implement procedures designed to prevent and detect violations of the Anti-Kickback Act of 1986 (41 USC 51-58). In addition, state regulations (RCW 42.40) require the university to provide annual notification to employees of the procedures and protections under the Whistleblower Act. These articles are published as a reminder of the policies and procedures in place at the University of Washington.

1. Kickback Defined. “Kickback” as defined by the FAR means any money, fee, commission, credit, gift, gratuity, thing of value or compensation of any kind that is provided directly or indirectly to any prime contractor, prime contractor employee, subcontractor or subcontractor employee for the purpose of improperly obtaining or rewarding favorable treatment in connection with a prime contract or in connection with a subcontract relating to a prime contract. University employees are prohibited under federal and state laws from accepting or offering kickbacks.

2. Ethics in Public Service Act. The Ethics in Public Service Act codified in Chapter 42.52 of the Revised Code of Washington prohibits State of Washington employees from accepting a gift, gratuity or additional compensation for personal services rendered as part of official duties.

Regulations published by the State Ethics Board and in university rules prohibit the use of university facilities and equipment for personal business use. Email and local telephones may be used for personal nonbusiness uses so long as the use is minimal and does not interfere with the carrying out of official duties. Each faculty and staff member is individually responsible for compliance with these rules.

3. Outside Consulting Work. Faculty and staff are required to receive prior approval before engaging in outside professional work for compensation. In the conduct of outside work, university facilities, employees, materials or equipment may not be used unless permitted by the university’s policy on “Personal Use of University Facilities, Computers and Equipment by University Employees,” Administrative Policy Statement 47.2. See Presidential Orders and Administrative Policy Statement.

4. Internal and Governmental Audits. Internal audits conducted by the university’s Internal Audit Department, and external audits conducted by the State Auditor’s Office and the Office of Naval Research, among others, provide checks and balances to university policies and procedures.

5. Procurement Procedures. Purchases may not be made by university personnel unless authorized in advance by a department employee with appropriate authority, and most purchases in excess of the current “direct buy limit” must be authorized by a Procurement Services Buyer. No gift or benefit of any kind may be offered to or accepted by a state employee involved in the purchasing process as an inducement to buy a particular product or restrict competition (Revised Code of Washington sections 39.26.020 and 42.52.140). The state ethics law also prohibits any state employee from participating in a purchasing transaction that may result in an economic benefit to themselves or to a family member. A university employee who independently contracts with the university for the sale of goods and services may require prior approval from the State Ethics Board. For any purchases made with federal funds, any conflicts of interest or potential conflicts of interest must be reported to the federal awarding agency in accordance with federal agency policy.

6. Whistleblower Act. The Whistleblower Act is codified in Chapter 42.40 of the Revised Code of Washington. The Legislature’s intent is to encourage state employees to report improper governmental actions. The law makes retaliation against people whose assertions result in a whistleblower investigation unlawful and authorizes remedies should it occur. The State Auditor’s Office is responsible for investigating and reporting on assertions of improper governmental actions.

Procedures for reporting improper governmental actions can be found in Administrative Policy Statement 47.1. It is also summarized below.

Summary of the Washington State Whistleblower Act

The “Whistleblower Act” was enacted to encourage employees of the State of Washington to report improper governmental actions. “Improper governmental action” means any action by an employee undertaken in the performance of the employee’s official duties which:

  • is a gross waste of public funds or resources; or
  • is in violation of federal or state law or rule if the violation is not merely technical or of a minimum nature; or
  • is of substantial and specific danger to the public health or safety; or
  • is a gross mismanagement of funds; or
  • prevents the dissemination of scientific opinion or alters technical findings without scientifically valid justification, unless state law or a common law privilege prohibits disclosure.

Improper governmental action does not include personnel actions for which other remedies exist, including, but not limited to, employee grievances, complaints, transfers, reassignments, demotions, alleged labor agreement violations, claims of discrimination and related complaints.

In order to be investigated, an assertion of improper governmental action must be provided to the State Auditor’s Office (SAO) or designated university officials within one year after the occurrence of the asserted improper governmental action.

Assertions of improper governmental action must be filed in writing with the SAO or the following designated university officials:

  • President
  • Provost and Executive Vice President
  • Vice President for Finance and Administration
  • Chancellor, University of Washington Bothell
  • Chancellor, University of Washington Tacoma
  • Vice President, Human Resources
  • Chief Compliance Officer, UW Medicine and Associate Vice President for Medical Affairs
  • Executive Director, Internal Audit

Telephone calls are not accepted.  The whistleblower may file a complaint using the SAO online form [portal.sao.wa.gov], return a filled out printable form, or submit the form by email to whistleblower@sao.wa.gov.  Additional information about the Whistleblower Program may be obtained by calling the SAO Whistleblower Coordinator at 564-999-0918 or through the SAO homepage [sao.wa.gov].  The report should include:

  • A detailed description of the improper governmental action(s);
  • The name of the employee(s) involved, their job position and supervisor;
  • Name of witnesses, if any, and their contact information;
  • The agency, division and location where the action(s) occurred;
  • When the action(s) occurred;
  • Any other details that may be important for the investigation —documents, evidence, etc.;
  • The specific law or regulation that has been violated, if known;
  • The whistleblower’s name and contact information (phone, email or address).

Assertions of improper governmental action may be filed anonymously. However, by providing a name and phone number, the whistleblower enables the State Auditor to gather additional information necessary for a thorough investigation. The identity of the whistleblower is kept confidential.

The SAO has sole discretion to determine how, or if, whistleblower assertions will be investigated. The law lists factors to be considered when making this determination. The SAO will mail an acknowledgment to the whistleblower within 15 working days of receipt of the report. When the investigation has been completed, the SAO will send the whistleblower a letter containing a summary of the information received and the results of the investigation. If the SAO determines an employee has engaged in improper governmental action, it will report the nature and details of the activity to the subject(s) of the investigation, head of the employee’s agency, Attorney General, Governor, Secretary of State, Chief Clerk of the House of Representatives and the public.

The law protects whistleblowers from reprisal or retaliatory action. If a whistleblower believes he or she has been the subject of such action, the whistleblower may file a claim with the Washington Human Rights Commission. The commission shall investigate the claim and take appropriate action.

A more detailed summary of the Whistleblower Act and methods of transmitting whistleblower assertions are contained in the Administrative Policy Statement 47.1. You may call Internal Audit at 206-543-4028 if you have questions relating to any of the above.

7. Federal Whistleblower Protections. Because the university is a federal contractor, university employees enjoy certain federal whistleblower protections. This is not a mechanism for making complaints concerning improper practices at the university. Rather, these are protections available for university employees who believe they have suffered reprisals because they reported certain improper practices at the university to an appropriate official. For more information, see 41 U.S. Code 4712 — Pilot program for enhancement of contractor protection from reprisal for disclosure of certain information. 

8. State Government Efficiency Hotline. State law requires the State Auditor’s Office (SAO) to establish a toll-free telephone line that is available to public employees and members of the public to:

  • Report suspected waste, inefficiency, or abuse
  • Suggest government efficiency improvements
  • Praise a job well done

Concerns can deal with local or state government, employees, contractor, money or activities.

The hotline can be reached by:

State Auditor’s Office
Attn:  Hotline
P.O. Box 40031
Olympia, WA 98504-0031

The identity of a person making a report through the hotline, by email through the SAO’s website, or other means of communication is kept confidential unless the person consents to disclosure by written waiver or until the investigation is completed. All documents related to the report and subsequent investigation are also confidential until completion of the investigation, at which time the records are subject to public records laws.

9. UW Financial Fraud & Ethics Hotline. Internal Audit manages the university-wide financial fraud and ethics reporting hotline, a 24-hour, anonymous resource for reporting violations of financial fraud, theft, embezzlement, ethics and waste of university resources.

University employees and members of the public are encouraged to file a report if you have factual information suggestive of accounting, auditing or financial fraud, or ethics violations involving any member of the UW community or other affiliate. To report a violation, please go to the Internal Audit website.